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By Robin Devereaux-Nelson

There's something I've learned about pasty bakers: they're passionate about their pasties.

Take my mother-in-law for example. Peggy is a Cornish Pasty Queen who has given several pasty baking lessons in her day. She knows the history of the Cornish pasty, and is very particular about what ingredients go into a "correct" (translated CORNISH) pasty. These ingredients would be: a combination of beef and pork, potatoes, onions, and rutabaga, all seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper. 

Now, my grandmother was French and Canadian, and she had a bit of a twist on the Cornish pasty. I grew up making and eating pasties that may have had beef and/or pork, potatoes, onions, rutabaga, carrots and sometimes parsnips, seasoned with salt and pepper, garlic and sometimes rosemary. A few little French country additions to make things interesting, and not so very "British." You know how those Brits and French are always competing.

I hate to tell everyone this, pasty passion being what it is, but essentially pasties are glorified Hot Pockets. Their practical purpose was to provide a simple, compact, inexpensive, hand-held lunch for miners and other laborers.

Basically, anything could be put in the crust, which was made to be tougher than regular pie crust so it would hold up to travel and rough handling. These folks were poor, and I am betting sometimes pasties had no meat in them whatsoever. At times pasties were made that contained only had potatoes, some garden or forest herbs and root vegetables, which were popular pasty ingredients and usually available. Meat scraps were added when the family could afford to do so.

Practically every country visited by the Brits (who call their pasties by the pet name "clangers") has developed a local pasty:

    In Spain and Chile epanadas may be stuffed with beef, chicken or pork, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, lots of garlic, olives and even raisins! They may have chicken, green chilis or other hot peppers, onions, rice and cheese.

    Jewish knish is a form of the pasty. These delectable pastries are usually stuffed with mashed potatoes, onions and schmatlz, or chicken fat and seasoned with salt and pepper.

    The Polish pierogi and Russian kreplah are a boiled form of the pasty and may be stuffed with seasoned meat, such as pork, lamb, beef, turkey or chicken, and may have mashed potatoes, onions, sauerkraut and sour cream added.

    The Italian calzone is a stuffed pizza that can be hand-held and is also a form of the pasty. Calzones have become popular in many American eating establishments and can be filled with a variety of ingredients, but usually contain tomato sauce, garlic, basil, oregano, cheese, mushrooms and a spicy meat.

    Asian cooking provides us with potstickers, also known as gyoza (Japanese) and jaiozi (Chinese). These goodies are pan-fried or boiled and are stuffed with a delectable array of vegetables, spices and usually pork or lamb.

No matter what your pleasure may be, there's a pasty for you. A tasty dough pocket filled with goodies to warm up the insides. What could be better?

Like I said though, pasty makers are passionate about their product. I remember making pasties for the first time with my mother-in-law. I thought she was going to have a coronary when I told her my grandma put carrots in her pasties. Carrots? There are no carrots in pasties! What was I thinking? Obviously the creations Gramma made were not "real" pasties. I went to back to my job of chopping potatoes with a sigh. She IS my mother-in-law, after all... And I have to admit, she knows a ton of stuff about pasties. It's kind of her hobby.

Around our house though, we make the pasties I learned to make from my Grandma Cora. Making pasties might seem a bit daunting—and I do have to admit it is a process—but not hard at all, and it makes for a fun family project. My hubs and I make them together, although for this round, he acted as my trusty photographer. You will notice you can view BOTH of my hands in my slide show this time instead of my one-handed photos. You see, I am usually taking pictures of myself making a recipe, hence, one hand cooking, one hand photographing. Without the use of a net. I do all my own stunts.

So, at the risk of totally scandalizing my mother-in-law, we are going to make these pasties my way. It IS Dev's Kitchen after all. And no, I am not all big and bad. When we are in Peggy's Kitchen, you can dang well bet we are making pasties HER way.

For the recipe you will need: 

Crust Ingredients:

5 cups unbleached flour (approximate)
1 1/2 stick of butter (PLEASE use butter! It makes Julia Child proud!)
1 Tablespoon sea or kosher salt (regular salt is okay too)
1 cup ice cold milk (approximate)

Filling Ingredients:

1 pound finely chopped beef steak
1/2 pound ground pork
garlic (2 cloves if fresh, 1/2 teaspoon if powdered)
rosemary (1/8 cup leaves if fresh, 1 teaspoon if powdered)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup water or broth
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, peeled and cubed and/or parsnips or salsify, peeled and cubed
1/2 large sweet onion, peeled and cubed
1/2 large rutabaga, peeled and cubed and/or turnip, peeled and cubed
sprinkling of sea salt

The first step is to prepare the meat. I like to do this first so the herbs can infuse into the meat, and the water or broth get absorbed. Adding water or broth insures nice, moist pasties on the inside, avoiding the need for gravy. Chop the beef, and add it and the pork in a large bowl. Add the herbs, salt and pepper and broth or water and work the mixture with your hands. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside in the refrigerator while you prepare the vegetables and crust.

Place all the cleaned, cubed veggies in a microwave-safe bowl. Now, honestly, this will be another step that may make seasoned pasty-bakers cringe, but I assure you, it makes for perfect pasties every time. Sprinkle the vegetables lightly with sea or kosher salt and toss together with your hands. (This recipe will really keep those hands busy!) Now, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Try to use the kind that clings well to the bowl for the best results. Place in the microwave and cook on HIGH for 6 to 8 minutes. Let the vegetables rest in the microwave while you prepare the crust.

Place the flour and salt in a large bowl. You can add pepper too, if you really like pepper, or even a little garlic to make the crust tasty. Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter, pair of knives, a fork or by using your fingers, until the mixture resembles little pebbles. Add cold milk a little at a time until the mixture forms a ball and pulls cleanly from the sides of the bowl.

Okay. Why milk and not water, like any other respectable pastry dough? Well, you can use water if you prefer. I add milk to my pasty dough because it seems to make a tougher dough and has the added bonus of browning the dough nicely. Who wants their pasties to be pasty, I ask you?

Divide the dough into 6 to 8 smaller balls, depending on the size pasties you are making. Roll each ball out separately and place meat in the center. Add a large spoonful of steamed vegetables. A note: take care when removing the plastic wrap from the vegetables. Lots of steam comes out and can cause burns to the skin.

Wet the rim of the dough with water using your fingers or a pastry brush. Fold the dough in half and seal the edges. Place the pasty on a lightly oiled baking tray.

If you have meat left over, simply place it in the freezer to use later. Left-over vegetables can also be stored in the freezer to add to stew or soup, or used in future pasties.

Place in an oven that has pre-heated to 375 degrees and bake for 45 to 60 minutes. Enjoy piping hot with a big glass of organic milk.

© Robin Devereaux-Nelson 2010